First Drives First Tests Uncategorized

2017 Jaguar F-Pace First Drive Review: The Practical Sports Car

The Jaguar SUV is Finally Here

The Jaguar SUV is Finally Here

The 2017 Jaguar F-Pace is the emphatic resolution of an existential crisis that has been gnawing at the soul of the storied British brand for more than two decades. Sporty and glamorous, the F-Pace is everything a modern Jaguar should be. It just happens to have all-wheel drive, 8.4 inches of ground clearance, and the largest cargo area of any Jaguar in history. The Jaguar SUV is finally here. And it’s not the end of automotive civilization as we know it.

On the contrary, the F-Pace will likely be the savior of the Jaguar brand. Annual sales of medium-sized, premium brand SUVs like the F-Pace have, over the past decade, zoomed from little more than 100,000 vehicles to almost 1 million worldwide, say Jaguar insiders, who predict sales will increase a further 50 percent over the next five years. What’s more, the United States alone accounts for one-third of those sales.

Jaguar’s current three-car lineup—XJ, XF, and F-Type—appeals to the roughly 380,000 Americans who buy luxury sedans and sports cars each year; the addition of the F-Pace to the range almost doubles the pool of consumers to whom Jaguar can now offer a vehicle. Jaguar expects 90 percent of F-Pace buyers will be new to the brand, and that their average age will be 47, a full decade younger than the current Jaguar customer. Nearly half the buyers are expected to be women. This is a transformational vehicle for the Jaguar brand.

And the transformation has already begun. Jaguar is holding 10,000 pre-orders for the F-Pace worldwide, just over 2,000 of them in the U.S., remarkable in a market where new car shoppers routinely demand the instant gratification of a driveaway deal. The F-Pace is already the fastest-selling Jaguar in history … and buyers haven’t even driven the car yet. But we have. In Montenegro.

Montenegro is a small country on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, hemmed in by Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Albania. Seemingly made mostly of rock, Montenegro, which has a population about the size of El Paso, Texas, boasts one of the most rugged landscapes in Europe, with gnarly roads that twist and writhe and wriggle through the mountains. It’s sports car country, as long as your sports car has a suspension with long wheel travel, generous ground clearance, and tires that can deal with jagged-edged tarmac.

The all-wheel-drive 2017 F-Pace will be available in the North America. with three powertrains, and in five trim levels (aside from the First Edition). Top of the range is the F-Pace S, powered by a 380-hp version of the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 used in S versions of the F-Type and XF, and the upcoming XE. Next down the pecking order for powertrains is the F-Pace 35t, powered by the 340-hp version of the same engine. Both V-6s will be available when F-Pace goes on sale in May, and in September they will be joined by F-Pace 20d models powered by a 180-hp 2.0-liter turbodiesel inline four designed and engineered by Jaguar-Land Rover.

Both the F-Pace 20d and 35t will be available in four trim levels—base, Premium, Prestige and R-Sport. The base 20d is the entry-level F-Pace, which rolls on 18-inch wheels and is priced at $41,985 USD (including destination). At the top of the F-Pace diesel range is the 20d R-Sport, which gets 20-inch wheels and carries an MSRP of $54,895 USD. Opting for the 35t bumps those prices up $1,400 USD. The F-Pace S is priced at $57,695 USD, and a limited run of 275 First Edition versions—essentially loaded S models that offer houndstooth pattern leather seats and special Caesium Blue paint—will be available for $70,695 USD.

We got to drive regular editions of the F-Pace and First Editions, plus a 20d R-Sport. There were no 35t versions available, and wheel time in a 35t Prestige, expected to be the volume seller in the U.S., will have to wait until we return to the U.S.

At 186.3 inches long, 76.2 inches wide, 65.6 inches tall, and with a 113.1 inches wheelbase, the F-Pace sits dimensionally between a Porsche Cayenne and Porsche Macan. With its long hood, voluptuous hips, and cab pushed to the rear, it looks like a tall Jaguar sports car, especially on the designer-friendly 22-inch wheels. That’s no surprise, perhaps, given inspiration for the F-Pace’s athletic form and surfacing came from the F-Type coupe, says Jaguar production studio director Wayne Burgess.

Slide behind the wheel and the cabin envelops you like a Jaguar sedan, courtesy of the high beltline and slim greenhouse. If you’ve spent any time looking around the new XF sedan, the F-Pace’s interior ambience and architecture is very familiar, from the multi-function steering wheel to the 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, to the Riva hoop running off the top of the doors and around the front of the dash, to the 10.2-inch center console touchscreen.

There’s DNA from the XF evident in the way the F-Pace drives, too. That should perhaps come as little surprise given both cars are built off JLRs all-aluminum D7a architecture, though Jaguar points out 81 percent of the F-Pace’s parts are unique. You can feel it in the first few miles on the road, from the wonderful linearity of the steering, to the poised and precise way this SUV tracks through the turns. The powertrain response feels almost identical, too.

What initially feels odd is that all this familiar Jaguar-ness is happening further away from the road surface than you’re used to, a sensation amplified by the very car-like cabin and driving position. Visually, you’re sitting in a Jaguar, but the feedback from your middle ear is you’re sitting on top of it. That said, the F-Pace chassis team has done a masterful job of tuning the roll-bar bushings to damp side-to-side vehicle motions before the roll-bars are activated, thus reducing occupant head toss.

Those optional 22-inch wheels look cool and the tires give a ton of grip, but the 20-inch wheel/tire combo that comes standard on the F-Pace R-Sport models is the setup we preferred on Montenegro’s rough and tumble tarmac. The 22s offer slightly shaper turn-in response the moment you pull the steering wheel off-center, but there’s more clarity and delicacy in terms of feel on the 20s everywhere else. The ride is better, too—despite specifying a 22-inch tire with a relatively deep sidewall, the 255/50 R20s are noticeably more supple. It comes as no surprise to learn the F-Pace chassis was developed around the 20-inch wheels and tires.

The 380-hp F-Pace S proved suitably quick in Montenegro – Jaguar claims a 0-60 mph acceleration time of 5.1 sec, but the 20d R-Sport was more enjoyable to drive. It’s a little slow to get rolling—claimed 0-60 mph acceleration time is 8.2 sec—but once off the line, the diesel-powered F-Pace is a delight to drive, and it’s lighter, which you can feel in the steering, braking, and cornering. The little diesel also grunts out a healthy 318 lb-ft of torque at 1,750-2,500 rpm, not that far shy of the 332 lb-ft put out by the V-6s (albeit way up at 4,500 rpm), and the eight-speed auto does an excellent job of riding the torque.

Though few customers are ever likely to go there, when the tarmac ends the F-Pace is among the more accomplished of the current generation of soft-roaders, which is what you’d hope from a company that also builds Land Rovers. A lot of the capability comes from electronics, of course, including the Adaptive Surface Response system, which automatically adapts the maps of the throttle, transmission and stability control system to maximize traction under a variety of conditions. All Surface Progress Control is a Land Rover-developed system that acts like a low-speed cruise control that allows a driver to select a speed between 2.2 mph (3.5 km/h) and 19 mph (31 km/h) and let the vehicle figure out throttle and brake to maintain optimal traction. In Montenegro it took the F-Pace up and down some reasonably steep and rough hills with no effort from the driver other than steering around the biggest obstacles.

The Jaguar folk like to call the F-Pace “a practical sports car.” And with good reason: It combines the sporty look and feel of a modern Jaguar with a degree of all-round practicality and usability no car in the company’s history has ever been able to deliver. In terms of the Jaguar’s future, there’s a lot riding on the F-Pace. But a sporty SUV from a sports car company is a formula that’s already proven wildly successful.

The Light Stuff

Like the XE and XF sedans, the F-Pace is built on Jaguar’s aluminum-intensive D7a architecture, though 81 percent of its parts are unique.

About 80 percent of the F-Pace’s body structure is aluminum. The rear floor is steel to improve front-to-rear weight distribution, and the doors are steel. The tailgate is made of composites. The core body-in-white weighs less than 660 pounds (299 kg); the bodyside is a single structure that weighs less than 13 pounds (6 kg).

Jaguar has been mass-producing aluminum body vehicles since the 2003 XJ, and continues to refine the process. Almost one-third the weight of the F-Pace body is recycled aluminum, the most of any Jaguar, says D7a vehicle line director Kevin Stride, and the goal is to reach bodies with 75 percent recycled aluminum by 2020.

Why? Because recycled aluminum requires 95 percent less energy to produce, which means lower materials costs, and therefore less expensive aluminum bodies. Jaguar has developed its own grade of recycled aluminum – RC5754 – for use in its cars, and currently recycles 30,000 tonnes of the lightweight metal a year.

Activity Key

There’s a fine line between gadgetry and gimmickry in today’s automotive electronica. Just because you can get a computer to do something in a car, doesn’t mean it should be done. On paper, the wearable, waterproof Jaguar Activity Key, being introduced as an option on the 2017 F-Pace, sounds a bit of a gimmick. In reality, though, it’s a gadget a lot of people will find they can’t live without.

A black plastic wristband, the Activity Key looks like a Fitbit, but is actually way more practical. It allows F-Pace owners to leave the keys in their safely locked cars while they go off surfing or mountain biking or snowboarding or a thousand other outdoor activities where carrying around a modern electronic cars key is either impractical or simply a pain in the ass.

The Activity Key uses RFID technology similar to that used by contact-less credit cards to allow you to lock and unlock the F-Pace. You simply leave the regular key hidden out of sight in the car, and touch the Activity Key to the “J” of the Jaguar badge on the tailgate. That locks the car, and disables the key inside, so even if someone were to break into your F-Pace they couldn’t drive away with it.

To unlock the car—and reactivate the key inside—simply touch the Activity Key to the “J” again, and you’re good to go. The Activity Key wristband is waterproof and shockproof, and doesn’t even need batteries. Clever. And useful.